The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Business

October 23, 2013

Trimming the stupid from management plans

Companies across this great land regularly implement policies that leaders claim will “foster greater collaboration“ or “build synergy“ or “incentivize innovation.“

I don’t know what any of that means and doubt most leaders do either. But boy, does it sound good.

One could write off these buzzword-driven efforts as nonsense, but I’m not willing to go that far. These plans might involve workshops with outside “experts“ or new software that seems designed only to make life more complicated, but at their heart is a positive intention - to make a company run better.

The problem isn’t the concept; it’s the execution, paired with a complete disregard for establishing guidelines that determine whether the idea is working. It’s one thing to say, “I shall make my workers the most collaborative in the world!“ and another to say, “I’ve carefully monitored this new collaboration push and found detailed evidence that it has been effective.“

To help with this problem, I’m proposing an idea that every company should adopt before jumping on the next big workforce-improvement bandwagon: Practical Process De-Stupidication, or PPDS, as it’s known in the buzzword biz.

Basically, if you adopt a new process that is, on its surface, very practical, you should do it in a way that is not stupid.

I learned about a California-based consulting company that is helping organizations with de-stupidication (my term, not theirs). Sara Roberts, founder and chief executive of Roberts Golden Consulting, spent years watching her clients try different ways of fostering collaboration.

The one thing absent from most of these efforts was a way of measuring success or failure.

“We noticed that a lot of companies had been talking about being more innovative and more collaborative,“ Roberts said. “But you really have to define that. We shouldn’t be innovative for the sake of being innovative or collaborative for the sake of being collaborative. What does it really look like?“

So using their data and experience, Roberts and her colleagues “took a hard look under the hood“ and began identifying the key components involved in making a workplace more collaborative. They looked at leadership, the role of technology and what kinds of behaviors a company encourages, among others, and figured out how those components could be measured on a scale from bad to good.

The result is what they call the “Collaborative Culture Index.“ (I’ll forgive them the buzzwords.)

“Companies and organizations are saying, ’I need to take more of a metric-based, rigorous, disciplined approach to these efforts we’re rolling out,’ “ Roberts said. “It’s got to be tangible, and we’ve got to understand the path that will get us there.“

This is not an endorsement of Roberts’ index. I highlight what she’s doing because it’s the right idea. Company leaders should not just embrace the management technique du jour - Employee First!, Minergy! (using minimal energy to accomplish something) - they should understand the goal, make sure progress is measurable and monitor it.

Roberts’ company uses a survey to gather information from employees. The survey doesn’t ask, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how collaborative would you say your company is?“ Rather, it creates scenarios that employees have to analyze and comment on, providing answers that Roberts says give a clearer picture of how workers interact.

The surveys are analyzed, and the company gets a report on where they stand in different categories on the Collaborative Culture Index.

“We’re able to give them a measure and say, ’These are the areas most important for an organization to get their arms around,’ and, ’Here are your strengths and here are your weaknesses,’ “ Roberts said. “We’re trying to give them a definition and an understanding of where they are in that journey.“

I can’t verify the effectiveness of Roberts’ index, but I can applaud what it’s trying to do.

Think about it as an employee. You know money is tight and your company is investing in a new computer system to enhance productivity or in training the bosses say will create a culture more open to innovation.

Good idea, but we’ve all seen “transformational“ management ideas come and go, having done nothing. Why should this one be different?

It’s different if there’s a way to measure its efficacy, along with a plan to track its progress and correct things that aren’t working. That takes effort, but it’s infinitely better than flying by the seat of your pants.

It’s PPDS, and it’s the way to go. If you have an idea to make your company better, go for it. Just make sure to de-stupidicate it first.

Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at rhuppketribune.com or on Twitter RexWorksHere.

 

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